Smart Cities Depend on Smart Location

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Paradoxically, as cyberspace provides a world without borders, human population is becoming more centralized. The increasing production of information in cities raises issues of privacy, access, and inclusion. Who will own the brains of Smart Cities? Fast Company sees a battle for control between "hacktivists" pushing for self-serve governance and companies providing opaque systems based on proprietary technology. Achieving balance depends on an agenda of openness, transparency and inclusiveness led by municipal government and enabled by open standards.

Information is vital to the functions of cities and the role cities play in society. As stated in a document  from the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London, the embryonic science of cities requires information systems and predictive models that will aid our understanding and inform policy development and planning. Is it time for a unified theory of urban living based on how city growth affects society and environment? Technologies are creating a nervous system for humanity that potentially maintains the stability of government, energy, and public health systems around the globe, as seen by MIT researcher Sandy Pentland. D City Network is working with the Group on Earth Observations to develop dynamic simulations of Earth's natural and constructed systems. Recently the “Nobel prize of geography," the Lauréat Prix International de Géographie Vautrin Lud, was awarded to Michael Batty for his interdisciplinary research on the complexity of cities.

Cities are rapidly expanding information systems to meet the needs of residents. The city of Santander aims to be a prototype for "smart cities" across Europe. The SmartSantander project is a city-scale experimental research facility installing 12,000 sensors able to “model, measure, optimize, control, and monitor complex interdependent systems of dense urban life.” Korea's Ministry of Land, Transport, and Maritime Affairs developed the world’s first u-city standard platform and is coordinating with OGC on standards. IFTF's study on Smart Cities identified technologies at the intersections of urbanization and digitalization. Industry is responding to the cities' needs. GSMA, an association of mobile operators and related companies, has a connected cities program for applying wireless communications. Intergraph is a leading company in building smart cities upon a geospatial foundation.

Smart Cities are a convergence of the ripe technologies identified previously in this blog series (in particular: Indoor FrontierThe Internet of Things, and The Power of Location) along with the additional topics of Urban Scale Geography, Sensor Webs in Cities, and Observing People in Cities, as described below.

Urban scale geography 

In recent decades we have witnessed dramatic increases in the precision of location information. GPS-based determination of location was an incredible innovation in the 1990’s. Prior to GPS, accurate location was determined by a human-intensive survey process. Survey and GPS enabled many applications associated with region-centric and feature-centric information. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications enabled greater awareness and analytical capability using a feature-based modeling of environments. New consumer capabilities were established, such as car navigation systems using lat/lon in WGS84 with accuracy to several meters. After the spread of augmented GPS, progress stalled for a time in the face of the challenges of working with location information in the indoor environment, where people spend most of their time. Prototype solutions abound, and in the next few years widespread indoor location capabilities in retail environments such as malls will release a new wave of location services. Beyond indoor location services are device-centric location services where device proximity and relative location along with other elements of the user's context will drive location-based applications.

Smart Cities figure - progress of geoinfo 

Figure: Progression of geospatial information 

Surveying / civil / geospatial interoperability scenarios are part of the longstanding problem set that includes BIM (Building Information Model interoperability and 3D modeling interoperability. The OGC CityGML Encoding Standard for 3D modeling provides an important foundational part of the solution. The Netherlands – a flat country in which small elevation differences are very important – has made CityGML-encoded 3D data a key part of their National Spatial Data Infrastructure. In an OGC 3D Portrayal Interoperability Experiment, members of the Web3D Consortium worked to identify technological issues and develop common integration strategies using web approaches for non-geospatial 3D modeling. However, much work remains. One major BIM standards effort is the conversion of buildingSMART International's Industry Foundation Classes to service interfaces and encodings. This innovation will make these building data models consistent with CityGML and with service-oriented computing in general.

CityGML provides an open encoding for representation, storage, and exchange of virtual 3D city and landscape models. CityGML supports modeling not only individual buildings but also whole sites, districts, cities, regions, and countries. It allows users to share virtual 3D city and landscape models for sophisticated analysis and display tasks. Urban mapping using airborne LIDAR systems provides much of the data needed for city modeling. A great example of smart use of CityGML is by the Berlin Business Location Center, which supports urban real estate, business development, alternative energy and other activities. The Berlin Solar Atlas shows the solar potential of each building for property owners to determine if the building's roof is suitable for a solar installation and whether the investment will pay off.

Carsten Roensdorf from Ordnance Survey presented "CityGML and Linked Data: Technologies for GeoDesign" at the 2011 Geodesign Summit. Paraphrasing the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), geodesign is environmental design of large areas that leverages digital technology to foster collaborative, information-based design projects based on dynamic modeling and simulation and informed by systems thinking. Geodan and Esri are both major supporters of the upcoming Geodesign Summit Europe. Geodesign practices involving BIM, using standards such as CityGML, are bringing new capabilities to the design of smart cities.

Sensor Webs in Cities

Smart cities observe the state of their environment and the activities of their citizens in order to provide improved services. City-scale sensor webs are key to understanding the state of a city and to reacting to its needs. Large scale sensing can be achieved by the deliberate deployment of sensors accessible by the city's information managers. Large scale sensing of the city can also be achieved using sensors in mobile devices carried by people or vehicles. In either case, open standards for sensor webs are needed to achieve flexibility and loose coupling (ad hoc interaction) of diverse systems.

The OGC Sensor Web Enablement (SWE) standards were designed to meet the needs of large scale sensing. The SWE standards are mature technology and are being used in a number of important emergency management projects. SWE is being applied to Smart City needs in the SmartSantandar project mentioned earlier as well as in the European Commission's “Integrated System for Transport Infrastructure surveillance and Monitoring by Electromagnetic Sensing” (ISTIMES) research project. The SWE standards are moving into the Internet of Things domain through the Sensor Web 4 IoT standards development effort.

Mobile devices serve as excellent platforms for sensors in the city, either with or without the active participation of their users. Participatory sensing is when humans consciously participate in the collection of observations while opportunistic sensing is accomplished based on observations collected without knowledge of people in the environment. The European CITI-SENSE project is developing “citizens’ observatories” to empower citizens to contribute to and participate in environmental governance, to enable them to support and influence community and societal priorities and associated decision making.

Smart Utilities require measurement of the flow of resources in the city. Energy mapping with Open Standards is being implemented by Canadian organizations to support planning, design, implementation, measurement, and visualization of Integrated Community Energy Solutions (ICES). German solar energy mapping in urban environments based on CityGML was mentioned earlier. As one of the frontrunners in the race to build smarter cities, South Korea is promoting development of a standards architecture for a service management platform that integrates ubiquitous computing and green technologies. To lower building operating costs (the largest cost in the building lifecycle), future buildings will include a large array of sensing devices and processing devices. And South Korea's Smart Water Grid is adopting and implementing the OGC WaterML2 Encoding Standard for the smart management of urban water supply.

Observing People in Cities

People with mobile devices provide the opportunity to understand the behavior of those citizens as they live in smart cities. The previous OGC blog entry titled "The Power of Location" described several studies on the predictability and repeatability of human behavior based on individuals' location. Research by AT&T Labs shows how data from cellular call records can help urban planners better understand city dynamics. Similar results were found by using the PFlow (Reconstructing People Flow Recycling Large-Scale Social Survey Data) system to reconstruct the flow of people using large-scale social survey data. Related research by Professor Shibasaki-sensei is now being developed in the OGC as an open standard for moving features. 

Perhaps the greatest challenges posed by pervasive monitoring of people relates to data ownership and privacy. There is great potential societal value in pervasive sensing and mobile computing, but these capabilities must be developed in such a way that applications cannot infringe on the rights of the people who are observed. Technical standards will surely be needed to support policies that protect citizens' rights to privacy.

The OGC is active in Smart City developments through standards development and through collaboration with other organizations, including the Smart Cities Council, in the development of an open standards framework for the spatial intelligence of Cities. Futuristic scenarios will become reality as integrated standards platforms enable cities' and citizens' information systems to flexibly create and use information in GIS, BIM and civil engineering documents and services. As the Smart City vision becomes increasingly compelling for governments and businesses, broad participation and cooperation in standards organizations can contribute to a balanced progress that serves society and its citizens.

• More information and references in this Evernote site.

• Overview of this blog series on geospatial trends

• Next Week's topic:  Policy implementation

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